Contemporary African Art since 1980 - lecture by Okwui Enwezor
artikelfotoAfrica
What is Contemporary African Art?
27 Apr. 2010
Uzo Egonu, Will Knowlegde Safeguard Freedom? - 1984, copyright Damiani Editore

One immediate point this project seeks to reaffirm lies in its title. It suggests with specificity, that there exists an artistic landscape of some coherence, and of discernible durability, which justifies the label, as to be applied to the works of artists grouped under the various thematic rubrics that inform the sections of the book.
 
But here, we pause to reflect – pace Mudimbe, on “the idea of Africa” we are working with. We readily acknowledge that for some artists, being identified as an African artist may prove a disabling label. Some artists don’t want to be considered an African artist, for various reasons. It may prove disabling to them in negotiating the boundaries of power that inform the entire global cultural complex. To a degree, the very "idea of Africa" may be superficially disabling to some artists, because Africa has often been represented more in terms of epistemological negation, to which no profit can be tabulated on the ledger of artistic and cultural capital. Add to this the fact that Africa for a very long time in the media had been seen as a marginal, then who wants to be part of this thing called contemporary African art by curators who live in New York and teach at Princeton?

In our approach however, Africa is a multiplicity of cultural spaces, shaped by social forces and political and economic conditions that do not privilege one way of conceptualizing an African identity. And in this framework, contemporary African art includes a tissue of fascinating and productive contradictions which enliven debates on what it affirms and contests. So at one time it affirms these series of things we call contemporary African art and on the other hand it contests those very things. More concretely contemporary African art denotes a field of complex artistic interaction and production, research, interpretation, and is a repository of rich intellectual discovery at the intersection of the shifting models of cultural, political, social, and epistemological analyses in which Africa is meaningfully interpellated. Here the connection to Africa not only informs the understanding of the diverse types of artistic practices reflected in our book, it also applies to the very complex models of identity formation and the ambivalence of such identifications in which the artists work.

Against this backdrop, the term African employed is capacious, it’s big, it’s wide. It accommodates slippages, incompleteness, eccentricities, idiosyncrasies, ambivalences. It is not to be understood in ethnocentric, national, regional, or even continental terms alone, even though all of those things are part of it, but as a network of positions, affiliations, strategies, and philosophies. So if we are to think of contemporary African art it is to think of this field as a network of positions, not a concatenation of national boundaries, but rather a network of these discursive circuits that Mudimbe talks about and artworks representing part of this narrative, these spaces of articulation, spaces of thinking, spaces of imagining the real and other sorts of things.

At the same time, the term African is also temporal, in particular in the way it engenders or disavows emotional attachments to the present and the past. Because one of the things we have inherited when we talk about African art, is always this tension between tradition and modernity, between pre-colonial, new-colonial and post-colonial art. Oftentimes when we talk about African art, we must for some reason revert back to the shorthand of "What about the mass?", "What happened in the villages?" and so on. I don’t think these things should be discluded, but I think it is important to really engage with the idea of contemporaneity. This is one of the features we tried to deal with in the book.
 
 



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Sites for this article:
Contemporary African Art - Damiani Editore
http://www.damianieditore.com/catalogue/457

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